Against the law to advocate overthrowing US gov’t.
What do you mean? I’ve never done anything of the kind!
Membership in California Lawyers for the Environment, right? Worked for the American Socialist Legal Action Group, right?
So what? We never advocated anything but change!
Smirk of scorn, hatred. He knew he had me.
I had my second Afghani dinner in as many days with Julia and her husband and her brother in an exquisite little stripmall joint somewhere deep in the wilds of Queens, far to the east of anywhere I’d been before, and the sabzi challow was just as good as she’d said it would be, and when her brother and I caught a subway back to Manhattan I got to remember all over again why you never get on an empty subway car in the middle of summer.
And despite the conventional wisdom about how oddly disjointed it is to meet in the flesh someone you’ve only known online, the only really awkward moment came when it usually did, for me, at least: Why’d you stop? she said.
Got to work. Got to. At local library, on an old manual typewriter. The book mocks: how can you, little worm crushed in gears, possibly aspire to me? Got to continue nonetheless. In a way it’s all I have left.
The problem of an adequate history bothers me still. I mean not my personal troubles, but the depression, the wars, the AIDS plague. (Fear.) Every day everything a little worse. Twelve years past the millennium, maybe the apocalyptics were just a little bit early in their predictions, too tied to numbers. Maybe it just takes a while for the world to end.
I was on a bus. Late March? Early April? I was on a bus, on the way home from work, earbuds in, nose down, book open. Early April, I think. I hadn’t posted anything in a bit. My “long explore” of the Unheimlichsenke had sputtered out in a thicket of Victors and Victorias, and I was instead becoming obsessed with unriddling the koan: what I’d thought was passing for enlightenment wasn’t. (That’s it? That’s all there is to it?) —The book in my hands was
The Shining Sea Pacific Edge; I was trying to find a passage I’d remembered, where Tom Barnard lays out just how simple it turned out to have been, getting to Utopia: we just told them to stop, he said, or I’d thought he’d said, or words to that effect. I wasn’t finding it. I was, instead, sticking bus transfers between these two pages, or those, obsessively marking passages I wanted to come back to, bones in the ground of the answer I knew I had to find, bits mostly from the italicized interpolations, Barnard’s notes from back in the always-already, Robinson’s commentary track, the becoming the book itself was trying to help us all sidestep—
Sometimes I read what I’ve written sick with anger, for them it’s all so easy. Oh to really be that narrator, to sit back and write with cool ironic detachment about individual characters and their little lives because those lives really mattered! Utopia is when our lives matter. I see him writing on a hilltop in an Orange County covered with trees, at a table under an olive tree, looking over a garden plain and the distant Pacific shining with sunlight, or on Mars, why not, chronicling how his new world was born out of the healthy fertility of the old earth mother, while I’m stuck here in 2012 with my wife an ocean to the east and my daughter a continent to the west, “enjoined not to leave the county” (the sheriff) and none of our lives matter a damn.
And it was maybe those words there I was reading when the opening fanfare of “Bright Blue Music” kicked its way out of the earbuds.
It wasn’t the disjunct between interpolations and interpolated that did it, no. The split between the smirk of scorn and hatred, the AIDS camps and the terror, and the all-encompassing epic struggle over a zoning designation—that spoonful of snark to help the medicine go down—it’s a flavor I’m all too familiar with. It wasn’t the encroaching conjunct between the world around us as it evermore is these days and the world Robinson was trying to wave us away from, the 2012 he was imagining from back in 1988. We always outstrip our fictions, after all, or what’s a heaven for? —It was the abjunct, sudden sharp and complete, between myself, there, on the bus, that book in my hands, and the music that was swelling in my head, the hope unalloyed, the joy in those brassy fanfares. It was thoroughly irrational, but these moments always are: the gap between seemed suddenly so vast and deep, and I looked down and saw my feet uselessly churning the air, and I closed the book and I closed my eyes to stop them from leaking. Heartsick, gutpunched, I took a deep breath and I let go. I stopped.
I stopped because I’d stopped.
All day I would sit there staring at the page, staring into the blank between my world and the world in my book. Until my hand would shake. Looking around me, looking at what my country was capable of when it was afraid. Seeing the headlines in the newspapers scattered around. Seeing my companions and the state they were in.
That’s the big thing, the outside thing; there’s also the ten thousand things inside, little and petty, maybe, but Utopia is when our lives matter, dammit; when the only things that matter are little, and petty. Zoning changes. Database issues. Typography. —The day after I had dinner with Julia and company (and I should mention that her strength is as the strength of ten, for her heart is pure, and her aim true), I was standing in Patrick’s office at Tor, and did I mention just how cool it is to meet people in “real” life that you’ve only known online? To put a voice to the words you’ve been reading? (An hour later, we were upstairs in the sort of old New York bar you find by shooting cannons, and Patrick was catching Teresa up on convention gossip in the interstices of our wide-ranging and enthusiastic triscourse, and one of those catch-ups was him turning suddenly and saying, oh, oh, did I tell you I finally got to meet so-and-so (someone, it seemed, who’d previously only been words on a screen), and Teresa, pretending great affront, said no, you wicked thing! and I couldn’t help it; I fell for them both then and there.) —The only really awkward moment came when it usually did, for me: When are you going to start it up again? he said, there in his office.
Well, I said. I shrugged. You know. I’m working on it. Trying to port it from Movable Type to WordPress. There are issues. I want to redesign it. I have to figure out the whole WordPress thing. —I was flipping through his recently arrived copy of Alasdair Gray’s Book of Prefaces and marvelling at the sheer bookness of it. I started idly pondering which bits could best be stolen for a website, and how.
That was August; this is January. There are still issues. As you can see. At least I got it ported over to WordPress. Finally. (The Spouse fetched me a copy of the Book of Prefaces for Christmas. I still haven’t figured out how to do it. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.) —And by the way, if you for whatever reason get into or have found yourself using WordPress, and have upgraded to “Duke,” and you do any sort coding yourself beyond just typing the entry straight into the little box provided, do yourself a favor? Fire up your dashboard, click on the Users tab, scroll down to Personal Options, and uncheck the “Use the visual rich editor when writing.” Otherwise, it will fuck your shit up. No lie.
Where was I?
Yes, the sailors are gone; yes, it’s all rather generically Kubrick around here. I want to redesign, obviously. I still need to figure out the whole WordPress thing. I want some posts of different categories to have different formatting, for one thing; I want to figure out the best way to integrate deltiolographs with a ruthlessly simple design. (It would be nice if there was a filter somewhere for Photoshop that made photos look like Wall Street Journal hedcuts, wouldn’t it?) I’d love to figure out how to fine-tune RSS feeds in WordPress, so that the Atom feed (say) was full-text, and the RSS 2.0 feed was just the post excerpt, so people had a choice, and the LiveJournal feeds might be nice to rescue, if anyone remembers who set them up. And where would I put the feeds from Audioscrobbler and LibraryThing? Decisions, decisions. Ten thousand things to rearrange, which I can do while I’m writing, I guess, is the point, as easily as not. I’m back, I guess, is the point, as much as I ever was here in the first place. The book is open; my eyes are open. Up and on to the next.
(And can I say how touched I was by the folks who showed up and said hi so quickly when tentative let’s-kick-the-tires posts appeared? Thank you. It’s good to see you all again. —Confidential to Lisa: of course, and soon enough, but still: a little patience. I’m looking for a hammer. Email me a snailmail addy, would you? There’s some paper I need to put in your hands, for all and sundry.)
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